Det var en väldigt glad, harmonisk och positiv ärkebiskop H.G. Dr. Kuriakose Mor Theophilose från Indien vi intervjuade i ett av Patriarkatets klassrum, som uppmuntrar, stödjer och framhäver oss ungdomar Syrisk Ortodoxa Kyrkans FRAMTID!
When and where were you born?
I was born in the year 1966 on the first February in South India, in a village called Kerela. Most Syrian Orthodox Christians are from the South of India.
When did you become a bishop?
I was consecrated as the first and so far only bishop by the hand of Mafiryono Baselios Thomas the first, in the year 2003 on the 29th September almost 3 years ago now. In the year 2002 the 12th November I was crowned priest and for a long time before that, maybe during 16 or 17 years, I was a deacon.
How is it like being a bishop?
Its a beautiful but also a difficult task. Our church and tradition is very unlike the protestant tradition. It is more like a father and son relation/tradition. There is a need, the need from the people and from us.
His Holiness has entrusted me to look after our congregations in India but also in Europe, so I have to travel a lot. Especially in Europe because many of our people are travelling there to work in particular in the medical field, as doctors and nurses. That is something we have to organise since more congregations develop. Thanks to God, with His grace this is possible and thanks to His Holiness.
Could you please shortly tell us about your life?
A brief answer to why I became a bishop was because of Gods grace, not because of my merits. He called me and I responded to His calling, but I must say that my family and a group of people have guided me and supported me through this. My family is very religious and I remember how our parents always used to sing and pray with us 5:30 in the morning. The Sunday service was a must for us! Each Syrian orthodox child has to visit church every Sunday, because after mass they have 2-3 hours of Sunday school in which they learn history, liturgy, bible and now we study the Syrian language.
From childhood I knew I wanted to be a priest and a bishop was in me, but I was not sure. After collage and after I got my degree I thought of studying low but the inner calling was very strong. Then I got a job but never stopped praying, we prayed together a lot and actually my whole hometown, the parish prayed for me and with me. Then I decided to join the seminary, after 3 years of studying I got the diploma and after that, a couple of months, I became the secretary of the Mafuryon. Then on the night of 5th January 1989 I was ordered as deacon and then I went for my higher studies in a ecumenical collage and came back to the seminaries to teach as a lecturer for 2 years. Then I got the opportunity to go to Germany and do my PhD there. At first I studied languages, German and Latin etc, then I did my doctoring, became priest and later bishop.
In Germany I got very good contact with bishop Mor Dionosios Isa Gorbouz and may he rest in peace bishop Mor Julius Yeshu Cicek
What essential peace of advice do you have for the youth of our Syrian Orthodox church?
You, the youth, are the future of our church. And our Lord was the youth during His life, properly, and that was the most fruitful time of His life. The youth is like the spring in nature; it blossoms. You can move whereever you want, body mind and soul are intact, active and helping this youth period. If the youth is healthy and helping the church, then the church will flourish.
In especially Syria, Turabdin and India we have good family traditions and not much of a secularised and materialistic society. So thats why it was easy for the youth to go to church and be strong together but due to globalisation, industrialisation, urbanisation and thanks to the media the situation has been changed, the moral and ethical values have changed. And when we talk about our youth in Europe I can understand the inner conflict, since they are living in two worlds. On one hand they live in the family that has a strong connection with church etc, but on the other when the youth is going to school and work etc the moral and view of life is suddenly different from what you know and been taught. Therefore, there becomes a tension, an inner tension and battle. This can sometimes make it difficult to be religious in such societies.
For instance, a girl I know started to pray before eating in school, it was a Christian school and her friends looked funny at her. So the question remains: what to do? I think that you should be aware of yourself and on your guard, thinking of who you are, what you ought to be and why are you here on this world? Just look at the story of Joseph, who was tempted all the time to take the wrong way, by Pottifars wife. But he was very much conscious of who he was and who he ought to be and he never forgot his God. So in the same way, it is your responsibility to be faithful, both in faith itself and in the traditions of the church, because its a very old and precious tradition. In addition, always remember that you are never out of the sight of God. And the youth in West must always remember and thank God for the religious freedom and privileges that you have. When we think of the life many of our fathers lived in Turabdin or other Muslim countries, the life which they lived was not sweet at all, at the contrary very bitter. Just think of the massacre in the year 1914, the year of the sword.
The role of the youth in the Western world is to work in the societies, to be religious and to keep the moral values. And dont forget your spirit along with your body and mind.
Do you think this happens (the unmoral way of living and looking at life) because of to much freedom given to us?
No! Freedom is divine and given to us from God. But its about the right use of freedom. Freedom is not to do whatever you want but it is the right to collect whatever good you want. The most beautiful thing is freedom, but you have to respect your neighbour and be aware of yourself. When God gives you more He will ask you to give more! Everyone will be asked to give back according to what he got.
How do you look at the future of the Syrian Orthodox Church youths in India? Does it look dark or bright?
When winter comes, everything is grey and looks so dark. But there is one tree that always keeps its colour and bright, the spruce (svenska granen). Meaning that God will never leave this world in total darkness or despair, so it is the same with our church. We can see the wonderful way God protected us and even carried us with His own hands. Especially if you look at the history of the Syrian Orthodox church, it is a history of persecution. From the beginning, we had to suffer a lot but God opens new ways. When we had to suffer in one place the result of freedom and acceptance became for instance in Sweden.
This church is safe in the hands of God. Let us go back to our church in India and our youth. Our church has always 1750 years of history in India. In the year 345 immigration came from Urhoy/Urfa or Edessa to Kerela in India with a bishop, some priests and about 400 people and since that time onwards our church in India has become the patriarch of Antioch. Till now, without have breaking the relationship with Antioch, we are growing and we are about 3 million people with about 1064 churches, 800 priests, 40 bishops, an organisation for women, we have the children with their Sunday school and last but not least the youth association.
The youth association meet every week 2 or 3 hours, have bible studies, discussions and talk about faith. Another program is to help the sick etc. And they always defend the faith when something challenges it. We also have special days 1-2 times a year where about 3000 youth comes together, spend time praying and have camps etc. It is a very positive sign that our youth in India arrange these kinds of social activities.
I was also very happy when I saw you here, youth from SOKU, in the monastery. You want to keep our rich traditions. The meaning of rich traditions means first of all the Syrian language, spoken by our Lord and His disciples, that is our heritage. Secondly, the mystery shared to us through the ceremony, the rich and holy 2000 years old liturgy an observation of a Western scholar. I know it is harder for you who live in Europe, who are religious and faithful people, and that is why I respect you a lot for not giving up and wanting to live this life. So I have hope and Im sure of that our church will survive these difficulties.
How do you think we can strengthen the international relation between the Syrian Orthodox Church youth in India and Sweden?
Unlike other orthodox churches, our church is a specific universal church, because other orthodox churches have boundaries. Our Syrian Orthodox church is a very big family, the patriarch of Antioch, our liturgy or church fathers and Syriac language units us. Despite our church having geographical distances, some are in India, others in Turkey etc, we are one family. Therefore our patriarch of Antioch, our holy father, he is the one uniting us and in him the whole church is one.
There are two big pilgrim destinations in India. One is the grave of His Holiness the patriarch Elia the 3rd. He came there, died there and was buried there. Many people came there and many wonders and miracles still happen there. Another Mafriyono Baselios Eldro came from Turabdin to India and many people comes to visit that place. Why I mention this is because our church fathers, despite no travel facilities, came to India to look after their spiritual children. And today we have all kinds of possibilities. I have to mention His grace, may he rest in peace, seidna Mor Julius Yeshu Cicek. He was a wonderful bishop, we have big seminars in India now and without his support we would have never realised that project, where we have hundreds students now and it is affiliated to the university and it going to be an international Syriac research institute. He opened a new door for our Syrian Orthodox people from West to India. He brought a group with him when he visited India and got to know more and more about us in India etc. Also youth from Germany comes to us every year, share faith and exchange experiences together with our youth. This is a very good thing to do, an exchange of youth, mind and soul. The internet is also a good mean where one can see what you do and how you work. The essential thing needed in a communication between countries and its youth, is good contact persons.
I can guarantee you that from our youth there will always be someone taking good care of you and you are most welcome!
/May God bless and strengthen you.
Madlin Kurt, Daniel Yalin, Meshlin Melki